Legends Of The Open Road – 2015 Tour De Cebu

The trials, tribulations and triumphs of the 2015 road rally.

The arrival at the airport ended up in an abysmally long wait in Terminal 3 (over five hours) due to the delayed flights of the airline we took.  The team was miserable from lack of sleep.  We were packed like sardines in one corner till we boarded –seems the adventure was starting early for the C! team.  Rommy Yao, one of the participants of the Tour, managed to find us and join us on the flight –it was a welcome relief to find someone to talk to about cars.

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Once in Cebu, we were picked up by our borrowed Kia Carnival from the airport before being treated by Chris Tio with his family and some Tour participants at the Maya Mexican restaurant.  Clavin Millado, from the Mercedes Benz Club of the Philippines, who helped Chris acquire his entry –an R107 Mercedes Benz SL– was also at the table.  I had a good chat with him about joining the Benz Club.  Afterwards, we checked into our hotel, the Montebello, a lovely, rustic, contemporary affair that was both simple and elegant –a veritable, cozy resort.

The following morning, it was flag-off day, and after assembling the classics taking part, the Tour finally got underway.  No less than the vice governor of Cebu herself, Hon. Agnes Magpale, gave the send-off from a specially erected stage set up just for the event.

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The drive out of Cebu City saw its first set of casualties but many cars survived to make it to the first check point.  Some of the unfortunate cars that didn’t make it were the the Porsche 911 of Rommy Yao and Frank Sauceda, while further on, Kenneth Cobonpue’s E-type cooked its brakes.  Kenneth, adopting an unsinkable attitude sent for another car: his black Porsche 356 cabriolet Speedster, with which he finished the rally.

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The Alfa Romeo Spider of Jules Chanco also surrendered after soldiering for some distance –one of three Alfa Spiders, Jules’ car was a last minute replacement so he had little time to prepare it.  The other two Alfa Spiders made it: the red 1967 Duetto of Glenn Socco and Eddie Salonga’s yellow 1971 Spyder that I drove after Eddie let us have the car.

The only remaining casualty was the 1972 Porsche 914 of Harold Ong and Sean Velasco.  Such is the price for passion.  It really takes a great deal of courage and determination to take a classic on a rally this long because the conditions, as well as the roads can be very unforgiving.  But this very spirit is the elixir that the greatest drivers who flogged the Targa Florio and the Mille Miglia drank every time they went out on a campaign that led to either glorious victory or ruinous defeat.  There’s no in between.

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The remaining cars made it to Gaisano Mall where we had lunch at McDonalds.  Dominic Ochoa, driving a white MGB GT got the celebrity welcome, but sadly no free Happy Meal (sigh).  Meanwhile, Eddie Salonga whose wife just drove up (via chauffeur) to meet us in Gaisano, was traveling with her back to Cebu: he had injured his leg recently and was told by his doctor NOT to drive in the rally so, naturally, he ignored his doctor’s advice and drove anyway.  At any rate, he decided to let me take over driving with his co-driver Manolet Ramos –‘Mano’ for short– before his doctor found out what he’d done.

Mano let me drive the Alfa first and so I did: all the way to the docks and onto our ferry for Dumaguete.  After a very pleasant crossing, we drove on to the breakwater at the city proper to park and were mobbed by astonished crowds who wanted to get a good look at the cars.  I recall there was a little girl who just wouldn’t let go of the enormous red Kougar driven by one James Deakin –the car, with its cycle wings, probably looked like a fairground ride to her and she was totally in love with it.  Then I had to tell some Korean girls to ‘please stop using the exhaust system of the Kougar as a step board’ while they were posing for pictures with the car.  They hissed at me.

After checking into our digs, the er, fabulous Hotel Nicanor, where they sold you your toiletries in a basket (hilarious), we decided that it was time for dinner.  We found a wonderful authentic Mexican restaurant that didn’t serve authentic Mexican food and enjoyed barbecued spareribs with java rice.  Mabel had some sort of salad.  She should’ve had the ribs.  The funny waitress named Chellie (I think her name was) entertained us and they even gave us some complimentary dessert (even if they did get the magazine wrong –F1 instead of C!– we’d better tweak our shirt design).  Afterwards, Mabel took us silvana-hunting where we found a lovely establishment by the sea that sold wonderful silvanas and promptly had dessert.

The next morning, it was Mano’s turn to drive and drive he did: he really made that Alfa sing.  There was rain that morning which suited me because we had to keep the top of the Spider up –no movie star attention this morning.  But it was a blessing for me as my skin was getting badly burnt –I was just a few steps away from the face-melting scene in Raiders.

While touring in the Alfa, Mano and I discovered myriad ways with which to entertain oneself in a car with no modern infotainment: we started out with ‘got-you’ practical jokes like ‘you forgot to release the handbrake’ or ‘that 356 has radiator problems’, to singing (worst of all).  We started with some Spandau Ballet and various New Wave songs, then as the singing degenerated, we ended up in the OPM section to the horror of the local wildlife.

After the checkpoint, an unfortunate event occurred.  While slightly distracted by what appeared to be an impossible number of kids on a motorbike, Mano failed to see that Dominic’s GT had stopped.  Crunch.  Out leapt Mano, profusely apologizing to Dominic before calling Eddie to tell him the bad news while regarding the stricken, smirking nose of the Alfa Spider.  Mano assured both Eddie and Dominic that he would take care of all the damage.

I was okay in case anybody’s interested.

We left the scene with Mano still driving and made it to our next stop: a sponsored lunch at Zaycoland Resort.  It was literally a buffet.  Then the rally continued on to where we were going to spend the night in Bacolod.  The weather had gotten better by then and we were able to put the top down again for the afternoon drive to our hotel.  We were staying at the L’Fischer Hotel.  Memories of the first Nautical Run came rushing back because we stayed at this very hotel ten years ago during my time at evo Philippines –heady days.

Dinner was at Ading’s Pala Pala –it was delicious.  Sophie Delos Santos, the rally’s chief facilitator and trip logistics organizer, had outdone herself tonight: we had grilled seafood, fish soup, delightful signature chicken inasal and those irresistible, deep-fried crablets that you dipped in vinegar.

We may have enjoyed the dining experience a little too much.

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The next morning, when we finally got our bearings, Mano and I agreed to split the driving: he’d take the morning set while I took the afternoon part because I wanted to drive into Cebu.  The drive that morning was the most amazing part yet:  we would drive through some mountains and the views were breathtaking, like scenes from Jurassic Park –I could almost hear the dinosaurs in the distance.  The air even got a bit nippy.  On the way down, we came upon the stricken Morgan of Oscar Medalla.  We stopped to keep him company till more help came.  It was past midday by then, so I took over the drive with our photographer Jerel riding shotgun –Mano generously opted for the air-conditioned, climate-controlled comfort of our Kia Carnival.  Such sacrifice.

When we made the port, we loaded right onto the ferry and steamed back to Cebu.  When we landed, the rally was over and we decided to take an easy drive back to the city.  Then the Alfa decided to get back at me: I mentioned during the first day that the Alfa was so unbelievably reliable that it was almost boring –not like an Alfa.  Well, it decided to oblige me now.  Apparently, the hard driving clogged one of the fuel filters and fouled some plugs.  We pulled into a services and after cleaning the filter and a new set of plugs, were later heading into the city.  We stopped at Café Racer for a carwash and a bite.  Then it was back to Montebello –much to my relief.  I rather liked staying there.

The awarding ceremony was a very warm and pleasant affair.  Mike Jo won the non-sports car class in a 1964 Karmann Ghia, while for the above four cylinder category, honors were taken by Yong Larrazabal and Junjun So in a 1965 Shelby Cobra followed by Bobby Aboitiz and Tony Lozada in a run out 1988 Mercedes Benz 280 SL.  The four cylinder class was won by Christopher Yu and Dean Bernal in a 1971 MGB roadster in first place, while Dominic Ochoa and Ronald Mojica won second in the fateful 1969 MGB GT.  Top marks went to Christopher Yu and Dean Bernal, who not only won in class but also took top honors overall in their ’71 MGB and their team was named Tour De Cebu Grand Champion.

By the time we finally got back to our hotel, we were all tired but extremely content.  We went to bed and slept very well indeed.

And just as a certain tire company would say after a Mille Miglia victory: nunc est bibendum!

Cheers.